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Slugs and Snails - The Dangers of Slug Poison

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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What's worse than stepping on a slug in your bare feet? Accidentally poisoning your much-loved pet with slug bait!

If you have a problem with snails in your environment, be careful what you use to get rid of them. Your dog and your cat are prone to poisoning from household materials, especially your dog (who usually eats almost anything). One common toxin is metaldehyde, a common ingredient found in "snail bait" (molluscicides). In the United States, this type of poisoning occurs more commonly on the West Coast.

Slug and snail baits generally contain 3 percent metaldehyde and products are formulated as blue- or green-colored pellets, powder, liquid or granules. A dosage of 190 to 240 milligrams per kilogram of body weight is lethal for most dogs and cats. However, the toxic dose can range anywhere from 100 to 1000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

What to Watch For

Signs of poisoning begin within 1 to 4 hours of exposure and can be fatal if left untreated. Repeated seizures can cause very high body temperature, which can lead to complications similar to those observed in pets suffering from heatstroke. If there is a possibility that your dog or cat has been exposed to metaldehyde and exhibits any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.

  • Anxiety, excitement, panting
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme sensitivity to sound and touch
  • Generalized muscle tremors, which can progress to loss of consciousness, seizures and difficulty breathing

    Veterinary Care

    Metaldehyde poisoning mimics symptoms of other diseases and poisonings so your veterinarian will need to know that your pet may have ingested this type of poison. This will reduce the need for extensive diagnostic tests and specific treatment can be started earlier.

    After a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian will probably recommend several diagnostic tests and treatments. These might include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) to assess the general health of your pet and evaluate for infection or inflammation, anemia or low platelet count.

  • A biochemistry profile to evaluate internal organs (like the liver or kidneys) for other potential causes of seizures and to evaluate for complications arising from repeated seizures, muscle tremors or high body temperature.

  • Arterial blood gas analysis to evaluate changes in the acid-base status of the blood, which may be affected after repeated seizures, tremors or high body temperature.

  • Analysis of stomach contents.

    Treatment of your dog or cat will involve ridding the body of the toxin and treating the symptoms. Your pet will probably require hospitalization for 24 to 72 hours. Your veterinarian may include any of the following in the treatment:

  • Administration of medication to induce vomiting, gastric lavage (pumping of the stomach) and enemas to prevent further absorption of the toxin from the stomach and intestinal tract.

  • A cool water bath to lower body temperature.

  • Medications such as diazepam (Valium®) or fentanyl (a narcotic pain reliever) to control anxiety, seizures and excessive muscle tremors.
  • Muscle relaxants such as methocarbamol, guaifenesin or xylazine to control muscle tremors.

  • Placement of an endotracheal tube (a plastic tube in the airway) to provide artificial respiration if your pet stops breathing.

  • Placement of an intravenous (IV) catheter to provide fluids to correct dehydration and acidosis, common problems after excessive muscle activity and repeated seizures.

    Home Care

  • If you suspect metaldehyde poisoning has occurred, call your veterinarian immediately.

  • Bring remnants of packages or containers to your veterinarian for identification of product ingredients.

  • Administer any medications prescribed and follow your veterinarian's instructions for care.

    Preventative Care

    Prevention is always the best medicine. Keep your pets away from areas where snail and slug bait are used or stored.

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